Exactly how long does it take to digest food?
Typically, from start to finish, your body will take around six to eight hours to digest a full meal. The time can vary though as different types of food take different lengths of time to digest. In general, fibrous food like grains and beans, as well as most meat and dairy, will take around twice as long to digest as fruit and vegetables2. Digestion times also massively depend on whether you are eating solids or liquids, with soups and juices taking less time to process than hard foods. Regardless of what you eat and in what form, everything you consume makes its way from your mouth into your bloodstream or rectum via the following route3:
Oesophagus – Once you’ve chewed and swallowed your food, it travels down the oesophagus until it reaches something called the lower oesophageal sphincter. This is a ring-shaped muscle which acts as a trap door to your stomach. When food approaches the sphincter, it’ll relax and allow it to pass through.
Stomach – This is where food is mixed with digestive fluids. These are a mix of acids and enzymes which are able to breakdown the food into smaller pieces which then journey on into the small intestine.
Small intestine – After food is moved from the stomach into the small intestine, it’s broken down into even smaller particles with more fluids and bacteria from both the small intestine and organs like the liver, pancreas and gallbladder. Any good vitamins and minerals are absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into your bloodstream. Waste products your body has no use for are pushed into the large intestine.
Large intestine – The large intestine’s main job is to absorb water from the waste products transferred from the small intestine. What’s left is then made into faeces which are moved to the lower end of the large intestine (the rectum) and, eventually, back out of your body when you go to the loo.